Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Saddle Arch

View of Saddle Arch along the Upper Muley Twist Canyon Trail

NPS/Al Hendricks


General Description: Highlights of the hike are narrow canyons, expanses of slickrock, large arches, and dramatic vistas from the top of the Waterpocket Fold. The canyon offers many opportunities for side trips and off-trail exploring. The route is marked with rock cairns and signs, but carrying a topographic map is recommended. It is extremely hot in summer and water sources are unreliable; carry adequate water. Use caution in narrow canyons, particularly during the flash flood season (typically July-September). From the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead, the total round trip distance is 15 miles (24.1 km) and is best done as an overnight hike. From the Strike Valley Overlook parking area, the trip is 9 miles (14.5 km) and can be done as a long day hike or as an overnight. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the visitor center.

Location of Trailheads: The Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road is located 1 mile (1.6 km) west of the top of the Burr Trail Road switchbacks. Passenger cars can be driven a half-mile in to the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead. Four-wheel drive vehicles, and often high clearance two-wheel drive vehicles, can drive 3 miles (4.8 km) up the canyon to the Strike Valley Overlook parking area. Check at the visitor center for the latest road conditions before driving into the canyon with high clearance two-wheel drive vehicles.

Maps: USGS 7.5-Minute Series: Bitter Creek Divide and Wagon Box Mesa. Available at the visitor center.

Best Seasons for Hike: Spring and fall.

For more information: Contact Capitol Reef National Park (435) 425-4111. Upper Muley Twist Canyon cuts lengthwise along the spine of the Waterpocket Fold creating a colorful, meandering canyon. The Navajo and Wingate sandstone layers are beautifully exposed here; tilted by the uplift and folding of the earth's crust and sculpted by millions of years of erosion. The Wingate, stripped of its protective Kayenta cap rock, has eroded into unusual forms, including many large impressive arches. the half-mile (0.8 km) round trip hike to Strike Valley Overlook provides outstanding views of the Waterpocket Fold and the surrounding area. The rim route in Upper Muley Twist Canyon provides similar views.

From the Strike Valley Overlook parking area, it is an easy 1.7 mile (2.7 km) walk up the wash to Saddle Arch where a sign indicates the rim route. The loop portion of the Upper Muley Twist Canyon hike begins here and can be done in either direction. Hiking clockwise, beginning with the canyon portion and returning via the rim route, will offer a more gradual climb. Beginning with the rim route and hiking in a counterclockwise direction will get the most strenuous part of the hike over at the beginning. The loop is well cairned but requires careful attention as some sections of the trail deviate from the anticipated route to bypass obstacles. To access the rim route and hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction, leave the wash and follow the cairned route on the right (east) side of the canyon to the top of the Fold.

To follow the loop in a clockwise direction, continue up the canyon in the wash. The narrows are 2.3 miles (3.7 km) beyond Saddle Arch. Cairns mark a route around the narrows on the right (east) side of the canyon. It is easy to miss this bypass route if you are not watching for cairns. It is possible to explore the narrows, but a pour-off near the beginning requires a difficult climb using old hand-and-toe-holds carved into the rock. The narrows end at an impassable pour-off where water can sometimes be found. Large letters painted on the rock wall mark one corner of an old uranium-mining claim.

A short distance up the canyon from the point where the narrows bypass trail drops back into the wash bottom, a sign marks the point where the trail climbs out of the canyon to the rim. At this point, you can continue back to Saddle Arch along the rim route or return the way you came. At the sign, the trail turns east and requires a steep climb and some scrambling to reach a second sign that marks the upper end of the rim route. The rim route involves some scrambling over steep, exposed slickrock and can be a little tricky when carrying a backpack. Use caution, especially if wet or icy conditions exist. The route along the rim is well cairned. Three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) from the upper end of the rim route you will cross a short, steep notch in the crest of the ridge. One mile (1.6 km) farther, shortly after traversing another saddle in the ridge, you will climb up over steep slickrock ledges to get back on top of the rim. Stay near the west (right) edge and watch for cairns leading over this obstacle. As you approach the lower end of the rim route, watch for a sign directing you right (west) to the route that drops back down to the canyon bottom. The rim is fairly wide in this area and it's easy to miss the route down if you aren't watching for cairns. Once you are back in the canyon bottom, retrace your route 1.7 miles (2.7 km) down the wash to the parking area.


Upper Muley Twist Canyon Trailhead to Strike Valley Overlook parking area: 3 miles (4.8 km)

Strike Valley Overlook: 0.25 miles (0.4 km)

Strike Valley Overlook parking area to Saddle Arch: 1.7 miles (2.7 km)

Saddle Arch to start of narrows: 2.3 miles (3.7 km)

Start of narrows to rim route (upper access): 0.6 miles (1.0 km)

Saddle Arch to upper end of rim route: 2.7 miles (4.3 km)

Total round trip from Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead: 15 miles (24.1 km)

A trail guide in PDF format is available here.

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